For years England and Spain
disagreed over trading issues and
religious differences. The ruler of
Spain, King Philip II, was also upset
about England leaving the Catholic
Church. Another thing that made him
mad was that Sir Francis Drake and
others were attacking his ships and
In 1588 King Philip sent the Spanish
Armada, a powerful naval force that
dominated the seas, to invade
England. Spain lost badly due to
English strategy and bad weather.
While this lost did not end the war, it
made it possible for England and
England sent several groups to North America to
establish settlements without much success. For
example, in 1538 Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed
Newfoundland for England but died before he could
establish a colony.
In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh and his scouts selected
Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North
Carolina, for colonization. The first group Raleigh sent
returned home to England after a harsh winter. The
second group started a colony, led by John White.
White went back to England for more supplies and
more settlers. When he returned, the settlers were
gone. He never found them. This discouraged other
settlement attempts for a while.
In 1606 several merchants requested
permission from King James I to
establish settlements and trade in North
America. King James I granted a
charter, or formal agreement to the
Virginia Company of London. It was a
joint-stock company owned by
investors for a share of future profits.
The settlers expected to make a profit
by searching for gold and becoming fur
and fish traders. They name their new
settlement Jamestown after the King of
The soil of Jamestown was swampy, the food
scarce, and the work difficult. Mosquitoes
carried and spread diseases. By spring, only
38 out of the original 144 colonists were still
alive. The next two years were not much
Jamestown survived its first two years
because of Captain John Smith, a soldier and
explorer. Lack of food continued to be a
problem, but local Native Americas brought
the settlers corn and other goods at least
until Smith left.
Only 60 settlers out of 300 survived the
winter of 1609-1610. This was called the
“Starving Time” because conditions had
gotten so bad.
Everything changed once the settlers
discovered they could successfully grow
and sell tobacco for a profit. Tobacco
become an important crop in the colony
from then on.
A settler, John Rolfe, married Pocahontas,
the daughter of Chief Powhatan, and
tension between the settlers and the Native
As the colony grew, the primarily
male settlers became unhappy
with the rules of the Virginia
Company of London. Ten towns
in the colony each sent two
representative, or burgesses, to
an assembly called the House of
Burgesses, where they made
their own laws for the colony.
Life in Jamestown
Until 1619 most of the settlers in
the Jamestown settlement were
men. Then the Virginia Company
sent 90 women to the settlement.
Colonists who wanted to marry the
women paid the company a fee in
tobacco. Families were started
and the settlement grew.
Africans also came to Virginia to
work in the tobacco fields. Some
Africans were free and owned
property. Others were servants
who agreed to work for a certain
length of time in return for
passage to America. In time, many
more were brought against their
will and were sold to the tobacco
farmers as slaves.
The King Takes Over
In the early 1620s, the Virginia
Company had financial problems. King
James took control of the colony in
1624. He cancelled the charter with the
Virginia Company of London. The
Jamestown settlement became the first
royal colony in America.